Where does misogyny go to hide in an era of #MeToo and Time’s Up? Into disguise, we’re sorry to report, and what disguise could be more effective than a “This-is-What-a-Feminist-Looks-Like” T-shirt?
We’re talking, of course, about the woke misogynist, that bastion of privilege-checking and progressive values who says all the right things—until a woman doesn’t give him what he wants.
[Men] haven’t had to think about how our actions are received by other people. So a [true] male feminist would be able to think about how his actions might be received …
The term seems to have been coined by the writer Nona Willis Aronowitz, who first described the character in a March 2017 piece for Splinter.
“The woke misogynist is a guy who talks a big game about gender equality and consent … then turns around and harasses you, assaults you, or belittles you.”
But wait, you might say. That all sounds pretty good up to the ellipsis. Isn’t talking about gender equality and consent a good way to be a proper male feminist? Maybe. Mark (not his real name) studies men and masculinity in a large women’s and gender studies program in the Midwest. He says this is all more complicated than a single term can encompass.
“I don’t think you’re either a woke misogynist or a male feminist,” Mark tells Fashionbeans. “I think it’s a spectrum, that you’re always either achieving one or the other.”
So maybe we should be talking about behavior, not labels. Like anything involving sociocultural systems, faux-feminist behavior is complicated. But for all the difficulty and blurred lines and screaming anxiety that surrounds male engagement with identity politics in these United States, there are a few ways men can figure out if they’re really participating in a struggle for equality—or just latching onto a convenient way to virtue-signal on Tinder.
It’s not just what you say, but when you say it, how, and to whom.
Sometimes men are surprised to hit an unexpected backlash when they join women in conversations about feminism. What gives? Well, while being open to these talks is important and laudable, men have to be aware of how they are participating in the discussion.
Want to talk about feminism? Great. Ask yourself these questions: Are you doing this at the women in your life or with the women in your life? Do you dominate the flow of the conversation? Do you interrupt women to make your point? If your female friends roll their eyes every time you bring up Hélène Cixous, it might be time to take a step back and a critical look at how you engage.
Look, we live in a male-dominated culture, and men have been conditioned in this society to be in control—especially when it comes to speaking up. Research shows that men interrupt women more, men dominate classroom discussions, and men are granted more space in print and online publications. So when you find yourself talking about these types of problems with your friends and family, pay attention to how you’re participating—especially when someone calls you out on taking up too much space. Listening and supporting the opinions of the women in your life is crucial, and you can’t do that if you’re always talking.
Beware of the misogynist disguised as a feminist.
— Jenny (@JennyCochrane23) January 28, 2013
That said, don’t beat yourself up if you just realized you probably shouldn’t have summarized 25 Jezebel articles on your last date. We’re all caught up in this system together. Just do better going forward—that’s how systems crack, one changing particle at a time.
And sometimes, it is just what you say.
There are plenty of ways to talk about masculinity or feminist issues without drowning out other’s voices—and then there’s mansplaining.
Even though this term has been around for years (and the practice has been around much, much longer), some of us are still unclear on what it means to mansplain. Allow us to mansplain.
Mansplaining happens when a person with privilege gives a condescending response to someone who doesn’t share the same level of privilege. The assumption is that those of lesser privilege will, without a doubt, know less than the person of privilege.
one time a boy in my history class asked if I knew what mansplaining was and when I said yes he started explaining it to me
— Julia Kovatch (@julia_kovatch) March 17, 2018
Mansplaining is really obvious when the subject is a man’s own feminist beliefs and actions. Mansplaining feminism doesn’t exactly scream, “I respect women!” It’s about on par with mansplaining childbirth—the bottom of the mansplanation barrel. The trick, as always, is to employ a bit of empathy.
“[Men] haven’t had to think about how our actions are received by other people,” Mark says. “So a [true] male feminist would be able to think about how his actions might be received, or might impact another person, and think critically about that and choose his behaviors more thoughtfully based on that.”
Misogyny-Free Dating in the Shadow of Patriarchy
Living in an online, social-media-driven world can be rough—especially when it comes to dating. Say you come across someone who’s attractive and interesting, and you want to reach out to them. Totally legit. You summon the courage and send them a perfectly crafted message, a message that took time and energy to create and is hopefully charming and will hopefully stand out to the recipient. But then some time goes by with no response…
Here’s where you have a choice. Do you double (or maybe triple or quadruple) down and keep sending messages? Or do you chalk it up as a loss and move on? Putting yourself out there is scary, and it’s natural to feel that you deserve something in return for your risk—but that isn’t how dating works. Women don’t owe strangers on the internet anything. You may have minored in women’s studies and walked to D.C. for the Women’s March, but if a woman isn’t interested, that’s that.
Of course, most men reading this know all that already. It’s obvious. They might even accuse us of mansplaining. But here’s the thing: Behaviors that make women uncomfortable in the dating space often pop up unbidden. If we don’t allow men to learn how to handle their emotions—or even admit to having them—how can we expect them to keep it together in the face of disappointment and a perceived attack on their self-worth? The line between feminist and misogynist can disappear pretty quickly.
And that, friends, is the problem with boiling society-wide systems of oppression down into compact little figures like the male feminist and the woke misogynist. We’re talking about behavior, not essence, and it’s a good thing, too: Behaviors can change.
“I actually think this is one of the scariest things,” Mark says. “This is one of the things I think most women don’t want to face. The male feminist is the woke misogynist. There are just guys. There aren’t good guys and bad guys, right? There’s not like the Harvey Weinsteins and the Obamas. There’s just men swimming around in the world of patriarchy, and I think ultimately at our core, we desire to be out of it. But most of us, in our desire to get out of it, just act it out on people all the time.”
— sarah (@sarah_church) March 7, 2018
The assumption of male dominance boils up in tragic ways. Unfortunately, dark social forces like control and entitlement are still part of the dating world, and rejection can be a catalyst for sexism’s ugliest eruptions. Women face an epidemic of violence from men who they’ve turned down. Meanwhile, there are countless screenshots of men completely unraveling in an inbox or on social media profile following a rejection.
This structure, in which men demand women’s time and energy and then react explosively when things don’t go as planned, is part of the world we live in—but that doesn’t mean we have to let it stay that way.
What are you supposed to do, then?
How’s a guy supposed to support feminism without tripping over his own privilege and landing, splat, in a humiliating pile of mansplanation? That’s a tough one.
“Being in any sort of dominant identity, where you’re the one who reinforces the oppression in society…Figuring out how to be an accomplice and co-conspirator in the movement to end that oppression and work against the oppression is tricky,” Mark says.
He should know. In addition to his academic pursuits, Mark spent time working with an anti-assault not-for-profit called Safe Connections. His job was to educate young men on how to avoid becoming perpetrators of sexual violence or domestic abuse in the first place. Mark’s classes became an outlet for young men to discuss how to be leaders in their communities. Crucially, this involved some deep thinking on what it means to be a young man within the context of a patriarchal society.
“We’d start about talking about gender and masculinity to lay that groundwork, and I think that’s useful because it helps them see that a lot of these behaviors are taught to them and conditioned in them,” Mark says. “So it removes some of that sense of blame and defensiveness, so they can actually engage with the actual behaviors, right? It’s not your fault that you’ve mistreated people. You were taught to do that. And all guys were taught to do that. But you get to be responsible for that and try to shift that.”
Dudes of the world, heed that call.